As holiday shoppers prepare to make their list and check it twice, odds are most of us will at least browse deals online. It seems more and more stores ask shoppers to download a smartphone app, and many use coupons or discounts to motivate customers to head to the app store. There are legitimate apps out there with deals available, but the Better Business Bureau is sounding the alarm about a wave of fake retail apps popping up recently.
Earlier this month, The New York Times reported bogus apps claiming to be for department stores like Dillard’s and Nordstrom, online shops like Zappos.com and Polyvore, the discount Dollar Tree chain and the luxury brand Christian Dior, among others.
These apps appear to be legitimate retail store apps, but in reality, counterfeiters are trying to take advantage of mobile shoppers. While some of these apps appear to be relatively harmless pop-up junk apps, others can take over and cause damage.
Some fake apps contain malware that can steal a person’s information such as credit card and banking information. Others may attempt to lock phones until the user pays a ransom to be able to use it again. Some phony apps ask users to sign into their social media accounts so the hackers can gain access to them as well.
The New York Times goes into detail about how this sort of impersonation can happen, explaining that the bad guys are not using malicious code that would be flagged, but rather, the apps just aren’t what they claim to be.
That article prompted Apple to go on a sweeping spree and remove hundreds of fake apps from its app store, but that isn’t a foolproof solution. It is up to us, as shoppers and mobile users, to protect ourselves from fake apps.
The Better Business Bureau offers a few tips:
▪ Be cautious when deciding what app to download. Read the reviews. A real store launching a new app will likely try to market it. If there’s no mention of it in-store or on the real website, that should raise a red flag.
▪ Don’t click links in any email to download a new app. Bad guys will impersonate brand names via phishing emails, trying to get you to click on links that could lead to malware. Go to the website of the retailer to get a link to the legitimate app in your device’s app store.
▪ If you decide to use an app, provide as little information as possible. Most apps do not require a lot of information unless you are purchasing something. Even then, be cautious and make sure the app is legitimate before you make any purchases.
▪ If you do make a purchase through an app or online, consider using a credit card for added fraud protection.
Emily Valla, firstname.lastname@example.org, is the Idaho marketplace director for the Better Business Bureau Northwest. To check a business or report a scam, go to www.bbb.org or call (208) 342-4649.